12/20/21 - A Message of Gratitude from Secretary Hou

Dear IDHS Friends and Colleagues,

It becomes increasingly hard to find words to express the gratitude that we feel here at IDHS for your commitment, tenacity, and partnership. "Thank you" seems unsatisfying and insufficient, but I will say it again and again -- "thank you." I know that you and your teams are tired - feeling fatigued as we have been sprinting during this marathon. I hope you will find time for rest, peace, and joy in these coming weeks. The New Year is a time to reflect, celebrate our successes, learn and be inspired from our challenges, and look toward the future.

I am thankful for the collective, creative, and relentless effort to provide Illinoisans with housing and utilities assistance, disability services and supports, substance use treatment, employment services and training, youth development and intervention opportunities, childcare, food, aid to immigrant and refugee families, and so much more.

In another challenging year, we worked together to strengthen Illinois' social services ecosystem, even in the face of unprecedented adversity. I am inspired by all of you who work with and for IDHS. So many of you are on the front-line to protect people who are too often forgotten and left behind.

One of the keys to our progress this year was an unshakable focus on the health, safety, and well-being of our patients, residents, and staff. We take on challenges, making sure that we see them through an equity lens, ensuring that institutions are part of the solution-not perpetuating the problem-to achieve equitable access and remove unnecessary barriers.

Acknowledging that we have so much work left to do, I want to recognize some of the important accomplishments across IDHS that fuel my pride in our State and that we will continue to drive forward in the new year.

Family and Community Services

  • The number of people waiting 45 days or more for a Medicaid eligibility determination is down by more than 97% -- from 147,038 in January 2019, to under 3,000 cases today
  • SNAP application processing improved dramatically -- to 95% of all applications processed timely as of May 2021, up significantly from 62% in January 2019
  • Pandemic EBT (P-EBT) brought $1.8 billion in food support (SNAP benefits) to more than 1.4 million school-aged children, covering the cost of missed meals when schools were operating remotely
  • Emergency Allotments provided $2.5 billion (Apr 2020-Nov 2021) in additional SNAP relief for about 1.8 million active SNAP households
  • An online SNAP purchasing pilot allows individuals to order and pay for groceries online from more than 100 Illinois grocery stores
  • Provided $250 one-time COVID hardship payments to 25,668 TANF families and 59,115 SNAP families with no income
  • Organized comprehensive case management, legal, mental health, interpreting and other supports for Afghan Humanitarian Parolees and Unaccompanied Minors arriving in Illinois

Developmental Disabilities

  • IDHS has been boldly working to bolster and strengthen the service system for children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) through financial investment and quality improvements
  • An historic $170M increase for community-based I/DD services, brought total annual support for community care to $1.4 billion
  • This investment allowed for provider rate increases and for a $1.50/hour increase in Direct Support Personnel wage reimbursements, to $16 an hour statewide, starting January 1, 2022
  • For the first time, the registration list for Home and Community Based services (known as "PUNS") dropped below 15,000 individuals waiting, and time waiting for these services dropped to less than 60 months

Early Childhood - est. 2021!

  • Through a series of nation-leading investments in high quality early childhood education, including over $1 billion in relief funding, 97% of 2020's childcare centers remain open and operating - stable throughout the pandemic
  • Decreased Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) copays to just $1 for families at 100% of the Federal Poverty Level, reducing costs for 80% of participating families
  • To retain and recruit a strong early childhood workforce, a $1,000 bonus is available for eligible childcare workers, along with "Access Consortium for Equity" (ACE) Scholarships for teachers
  • Effective July 1, 2021, a 3.5% rate increase was provided for early childhood homes and centers with another 3.5% increase going into effect on January 1, 2022

Rehabilitation Services

  • The inherited backlog of 7,000+ people awaiting a determination of eligibility for Home Services Program supports (Personal Assistants) was eliminated
  • The Bureau of Disability Determination Services maintained above the required goal of 97% Net Accuracy on Initial Cases adjudicated, helping 22,386 Illinoisans secure Social Security Disability benefits
  • Employment services for People with Disabilities in Illinois led the country with 60% receiving an education or training program that leads to a credential or employment
  • All 102 counties in Illinois now have a Center for Independent Living providing local services and advocacy to people with disabilities
  • Activated a mass texting program and provided nearly 115,000 people with disabilities and their homecare providers information on local vaccine opportunities

Mental Health

  • Awarded $71M in "Program 590" grants to builds out the mobile crisis response component of the crisis system. It is the largest investment in a single program in IDHS history. It will benefit many who have not had access to mental health crisis services in the past
  • Opened an $8M grant opportunity for Illinois colleges and universities to recruit and train individuals with lived expertise in mental health and substance use recovery to enter the behavioral health workforce
  • Building capacity and released a NOFO for a future "9-8-8" mental health crisis line

Substance Use Prevention and Recovery (SUPR)

  • Invested nearly $13 million to expand community-based access to Naloxone/Narcan, the lifesaving medication that reverses opioid overdose
  • Launched a Mobile Medication Assisted Recovery (MAR) pilot with the Community Outreach Intervention Project (COIP) to provide low-threshold buprenorphine initiation and primary medical care in tandem with naloxone distribution, syringe exchange, and harm reduction services via mobile van-based outreach on the west side and south sides of Chicago. The program brings comprehensive health care to a significant portion of people at risk for opioid overdose in Chicago
  • Issued more than $37 million in Retention/Sustainability Payments to Illinois' network of Substance Use Disorder providers, designed to support workforce retention and development

Transcending the work of any individual Division, IDHS staff have pulled together to accomplish extraordinary things in these unprecedented times. In partnership with IDPH, IDHS staff provided vaccines to 27,567 individuals onsite at the Mental Health and Developmental Centers, and in the field to staff and community members.

We established Office of Firearm Violence Prevention. The Governor named Chris Patterson Assistant Secretary for Violence Prevention to lead future work in this crucial endeavor.

The Illinois Housing Help?- Emergency Rental Assistance Program launched in May 2021 to assist households impacted by COVID-19. By the end of November 2021, the program has provided close to $25 million in rental assistance to 5,503 households. It has also provided legal assistance at no cost to 6,347 people, helping to prevent eviction and homelessness.

I am filled with gratitude as we end this year and look ahead to 2022. It is because of your unwavering commitment that our customers, patients, residents, and partners continue to place trust in us. I look forward to continuing our momentum in the year to come. Wishing you and your families a very happy, healthy, and safe holiday season and new year.


Grace B. Hou